4 September 2006

Images of Canberra - Bonfire explores the wreckage of the Cameron Offices

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[ED – Bonfire has sent in a lengthy series of snaps from a covert exploration of the semi-demolished Cameron Offices, I spent the last 40 minutes getting the pictures into the html so I hope you enjoy it]

On the weekend I went urban exploring at the Cameron Offices in Belconnen.

Cameron offices

I took this photo from the Belco Labor Club. To the right of the photo is a walkway between two wings of the Cameron offices. The buildings on the left are abandoned and mostly stripped with just the shell remaining.

To the right, and not in this photo, are the buildings which will be torn down. This is occurring now.

The Cameron offices are heritage registered and tons of info can be found at http://www.deh.gov.au

The report which nominated the buildings for heritage status can be found there.

Cameron offices sign

If you like the modern brutalist style of architecture, these buildings are a treat

I took the following from the DEH website:

Cameron Offices was the first building constructed in the new town centre of Belconnen, and Australia’s largest office complex development at that time. It was conceived as an element of an urban street design with pedestrian movement through interconnected wings and walkways as the primary theme. John Andrews, an Australian architect with an international reputation was chosen by the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) to design the offices. The accepted solution provided by John Andrews was 9 wings of 4 storeys, stepped with the contours of the site. The complex was proposed to link across roadways via pedestrian walkways, adjacent residential and retail complexes.

Prior to the completion of the Cameron Offices, the shopping mall which was to have been erected immediately to the north, was relocated to a site further to the west. This affected the fundamental design premise of pedestrian links on which the offices had been designed. The problem was partly remedied by constructing a bus station at the northern end of the offices. The thematic landscaping in the courtyards was also changed, although some plantings and the water features have been retained.

The Cameron Office complex was officially opened on 24 September 1976. The complex was one of the earliest Late Twentieth Century International Style and Brutalist Style buildings in Canberra, and its low-rise rectangular form with intervening courtyards established a new design philosophy which was adopted by Canberra’s planners. Elements specific to the Late Twentieth Century International Style include cubiform rectangular forms, structural frame expressed, large sheets of glass, and Corbusian ribbon windows. The late Twentieth Century Brutalist Style featured strong masses boldly composed and large areas of off form concrete.

In Andrews’ design, the street became an elevated open sided mall connecting the office units and providing a pedestrian link between the planned housing and the commercial infrastructure. The executive suites and functions were placed over the mall, and low rise, walk up general office spaces branched off from this spine, creating courtyards between the wings. The spine stepped down towards the north and the office wings stepped down to the west. In order to accommodate a stepped form which broke up the bulk of the development, and to create a column-free interior for the wings, the gallows style beam structural system was developed. These large pretensioned beams spanned over the courtyards, creating a pergola effect over the planting and at the same time connected to the post tensioned columns which supported the floor slabs of the wings. The floor slabs stepped back on the north elevation as the building approached ground level, creating natural overhand shading to the glazed walls. The uniquely integrated design solution by four Australian firms collaborating on the planning and design: Miller Milston and Ferris, DS Thomas and Partners, McCredie, Richmond and Johns, and PJ Courtney Architects. The complex structural system was designed by Peter Miller, providing, sun shading and creating column free internal spaces.

The landscape setting for Cameron Offices was based on an Australian bush garden style, based on the use of native plants and bush themes in a naturalistic and informal way. It was designed by Steve Moorehead, one of North America’s foremost landscape practitioners. The original indigenous plantings recreated the landscape themes of the Monaro Plains and Australian continent in each of the six courtyards, ranging from the high plains to dry desert themes. The landscaping created a close integration between building and landscape, and was designed as a device for orientation, circulation and relaxation. The courtyard landscaping between each wing was continued as tree plantings extending through the car parks. The design solution for the Cameron Offices complex was facilitated by NCDC’s planning policies, and was an unusual feature in Australia’s urban environment where subdivision has tended to constrain design of office buildings.

Recent History

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) occupied the Cameron Offices since its completion in 1976. In 1997 the Commonwealth Government announced the elimination of 70,000 sq metres of office space in order to stabilise and rejuvenate the ACT’s commercial property market while removing surplus offices accommodation resulting in Commonwealth Public Service cuts. Cameron Offices was proposed for demolition. In 1998, the Department of Finance and Administration (DOFA) Domestic Property and Operation Group commissioned Conybeare Morrison & Partners to undertake a conservation analysis of the building. Wagdy Hanna and Associates Pty Ltd Architects and Property Consultants were commissioned to investigate the partial demolition options. In 1998 DOFA issued a Call for Detailed Proposals to sell the property at market value, reduce vacant commercial office space and consider other objectives. Conybeare Morrison & Partners prepared a Conservation Analysis of the complex in 1998. The complex was entered in the Register of the National Estate in 1999.

In 2000 the building was sold to Bovis Lend Lease. Work on the demolition of Cameron Offices was due to commence in May 2002 with new buildings to be completed in 2005. In July 2001, the architect John Andrews and Cameron Nominees (the owners of the buildings) decided to investigate changes in the redevelopment strategy to permit retention of most of the significant elements including all buildings other than Buildings 1 and 2, and the portion of the mall extending from Building 3 to the Bus Interchange. This resulted in retention of most of the original building and the retention of the Optical Galaxy sculpture in its original location. Three major areas of change were recommended; the demolition of Building s 1 and 2, the partitioning of the open plan wings for apartments or small scale commercial premises, and changes to the courtyards to provide the main address to each apartment.

Cameron exterior

It is an attractive building from some angles.

delta digger

From the bus exchange I will be able to watch this wing be torn down in increments. One of the gardens was ripped out last week.

Cameron graffiti

Aidan Bruford must have visited. There are several bits of machinery on tracks up on the roof chipping away at the cement.


If you walk along the road, you can see that the rest of the complex has been fenced off. Careful investigation reveals several entry points. Workmen were here, so I moved along the road. In the other wings there were no workmen present and the same soft perimeter fencing was used.
They must want you to go exploring.

Cameron gardens

One of the design features of the complex was ‘gardens’ between buildings. This is quite nice. I had a smoke here while I caught my breath after jumping the fence.

office footprint

Wandering around through doors left open or forced open by previous explorers and you come across offices that look like they were emptied yesterday. In some of these areas idiots have smashed windows. I think some are being refurbed.

This is a huge open area with no columns – clever architects indeed.

You do have to be careful. I opened a door to one of these large open areas and the smell was overpowering – of mildew. The carpet was covered in mould. I left fast as I was not wearing a mask. No photo either.

Cameron garden ledge

Nice photo of the garden between two buildings. I walked along one of these ledges after gaining access via a broken window but felt I was pushing my safety luck and after taking this photo went back into an office area. Now I realise if I fell, it would only have been 15 feet or so.


Interestingly, the power is on in these buildings (exit signs etc) but the elevators do not work.

long shot to Benjamin offices

A shot of the Benjamin Offices through a broken window in the Cameron Offices.


It is easy to get lost, but in one office I found this useful map.


In some places it is like people just walked out – on May 1 2002.

Optical Galaxy Sculpture

The DEH report says this is: The Optical Galaxy Sculpture

“The work was commissioned for Cameron Offices as part of the Town Square located opposite Mall 9. It was created by the Canadian sculptor, Gerald Gladstone who was striving to express humanity’s concern with its position in intergalactic space. The sculpture comprises eleven truncated fins each standing 7 metres high that are curved to represent the form of a sine ways used in measuring light waves. On top of each fin is a Lucite block in which is suspended a sculpture of welded steel road to represent the swirls of planets in the galaxy. A specially designed water cannon emits a cascade of water over the work.”

beer prices

$1.90 for a beer! Wish I’d been a member.


The only graffiti I saw inside the buildings.

internal demolition

Some demo work has commenced on this side of the complex. Downstairs are builders skips.


You can walk on the roof. It took awhile to get up here, but its doable.


It’s a long way down this stairwell.


Another one of the gardens. Plenty of birdlife in here. Parrots a plenty.

Bonfire reflected

Bonfire reflecting upon his actions

You have to be careful wandering around abandoned buildings. There is lots of smashed glass and sharp metal etc everywhere. I didn’t go to some areas as my torch batteries were flat. Most doors are open or have been forced open by vandals.

[ED – and if kiddies decide to do this in their own time please don’t tell anyone you got the idea from us]

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Parkway Drive – Sleepwalker [LYRICS]12:11 am 21 Dec 10

[…] Images of Canberra – Bonfire explores a wreckage of a Cameron … […]

concrete city

bonfire: Ahh, that explains a lot. It’s struck me every time I’ve gone there that the national gallery entrance seems to be almost an afterthought.

i’ve thought several tiems about exploring this building.
I might go do so this weekend.

You raise a good point Bonfire – I recall listening to a historian talking on local ABC about Burly Griffin and the arguments he had with public servants about the implementation of his design for Canberra. I wonder how many buildings have been designed well by the architects and then completely cocked up by the bureaucrats.

another example of idealism vs pragmatism one would suspect bonfire…

the national gallery is another fine example of starting a momentous build, which anything of that scale is, and then changing other elements afterwards. the actual entrance to the ng now faces onto trees and shrubs. the entrance which has been used for 20 odd years is essentially the arse end of the building.

the architect has fumed about this for years.

i recall a model of the ng as originally designed was on display there, it may still be.

for some reason the ng persist in the idea that people will want to walk to it from the high court. they never have, and never will. most people will walk in from the carpark – up the dinky ugly staircase.

the current entrance is a disgrace.

i do like the suspended ball though.

Just on another tangent, does anyone know who build the space station looking building across from Woden Plaza? Apparently it used to be a TAFE, and IIRC it now houses InTACT.

Absent Diane11:43 am 06 Sep 06

thumper I agree with from a historical point of view. I was at the national gallery several months ago and thought the building looked horrendous… but then it occured to me that what looks horrendous to us now… could be quite impressive to anyone 200 years from now (assuming we live that long)… It also made me question what we don’t know about history because at the time people thought something had become outdated or redundant so abolished it completely…

So my short answer is yes we should keep some of these monstrocities (sp?) for the sake of history buffs in the future!!

Usually buildings (and art) don’t seem attrctive until they are a few generations old. Although these have had 3-4 decades to grow on us.
– It looks as though they are going to demolish that sculpture along with the building. Pity that.

I am aware of his “famous house” and while that has merit, I still don’t believe that we should keep the cameron offices for the sake of historical preservation.

Its all subjective anyway – what looks good/bad/has significance, etc. I just think if you are going to preserve buildings for their architectural significance, you may as well do it on buildings that actually look 1/2 decent and not just any old thing – which seems to be the case from my uninformed view of the heritage listing process.

snahon, i know you wont change your mind but soem of this type of architecture is truly beautiful.


Having lived in a seidler designed building, i dont think he always hit the mark, but he did in his own home.

I agree some concret construction is crap. the slab tilt construction method has seen many ugly buildings erected, but like all works of art, some are good, some arent.

cameron offices are quite striking.

20th century heritage – blech… I fail to see the significance and/or beauty of concrete slabs stuck together to form ugly buildings. They are ugly ugly ugly and no amount wishy washy garbage spewing from the architects about their ideas and themes of what it represents still doesn’t detract from the truth – ugly.

The only significance this building has is what NOT to design…

Go to Melbourne CBD and you’ll actually see nice attractive architecture that is worth preserving.

i understand what youre saying vg and i appreciate and respect danger. i have been wandering around derelict buildings for several decades and never found myself in trouble. lost occasionally, but never hurt myself. im probably one of the most careful people you have ever met. i try to estimate risk and plan accordingly.

Thumper, if we’re talking millions of years – I’d suggest you used potassium-argon dating.

Having had to waste my time at work on many more than one occasion dragging people off dangerous derelict buildings and building sites whilst I appreciate the aesthetics of the presentation I can’t understand the risk taken.

The reasons are encompassed by the fact that the site is fenced off, and when people do go on the site they use appropriate safety equipment. Top that off by the hours that any ES organisation would have to spend looking for someone if/when they fell down a hole….well lets just say the ramifications are obvious. I’ll make not further comment on it. I’m happy you weren’t injured in this instance, but I wouldn’t suggest doing it again

And the bar, from memory, was called Subway. Does anyone remember what the club known as Cube was before it was Liquid Lounge? It was the place to be on a Friday arvo/night before the Pavillion (now Rydges Capital) and Bobby McGees. I’m talking late 80s early 90s here

I remember it having parachute stuff on the ceiling but I don’t remember the name either – it probably had a few incarnations. But (tragically) I DO remember Carousello, Honeys (both in Woden) and (less tragically) Bogarts. In fact I did a couple of gigs at Bogarts in a string quartet before they decided it was cheaper to pay one guitarist.
PS my kids think it’s weird and outdated to say one is going ‘raging’. (I think I have seriously carbon-dated myself now.)

I rememember the Monaro Mall – although I doubt it had anything redeeming about it that warranted preservation – still it takes me back to a possibly more gentler time … although now I think of it, what was the name of that bar that was down in the basement somewhere near where Cafe Dial-a-pizza and Happy’s is. It used to be open in the very wee hours.

20th C heritage? Eek! But if that’s so, why didn’t they save the ‘tasteful’ Monaro Mall?! I used to love an iced coffee at Mitchell’s way back then . . .

JTK – the age of a place is but one of the possible criteria for heritage listing – there’s no specific age limit or threshold. In fact one of the things heritage agencies are concentrating on is whats called – 20th Century Heritage.

I hope this heritage business doesn’t extend to the soon-to-be-demolished PM&C building in Barton (the grey cement monstrosity with the red awnings).
Impressed with the photos and your intrepidity, Bonfire!

I may have Bonfire – I’ll have a scrounge around and get back to you.

James-T-Kirk1:04 pm 05 Sep 06

“We have very little heritage architecture in this city, and what we do have is being rapidly destroyed.”

That is because once it is heritage listed, it is shit to maintain. Bulldoze it the week before it qualifies, I say!

Also many of the gardens at ground level had water features, but most were turned off after they found water leaking into the service tunnel below the buildings which contains heaps of high voltage power cables.

If someone was to go exploring defintely the freakiest place in the old building is the service tunnel – just make sure you have boots and a good torch. Also the heating / aircon plant at wing 1 (which was recently demolished) was also pretty spectacular viewing… and the data centre at wing 9 is also a highlight.

The mildew on the carpets was from one of the more recent vadal attacks. On a weekend they broke into the old building and smashed apart a number of the toilets, of course they hadn’t turned off the water to that wing. The builders /demolition crew turned up on Monday and found the new internal lake and water fall which had ensued.

You’d think they would have salvaged the carpet, blinds and some of the plants (like the big treeferns), but it doewsn’t seem to be the way they operate. It was the same when they knocked down the little buildings at Defence – there were still plates in the cupboards, and the wrecking balls were coming in.

xman do you have any photos of the work areas occupied ?

The covered roof areas – as shown in Bonfire’s pic – were also gardens. Alas the roof leaked and all the soil and plant life was dumped over the edge and a tin roof put up. They also roofed over the tennis courts on Wing 8, due to leakage into the data centre.

I worked there for many years and have mixed feelings about the building. I loved the design, but in reality the bastard always leaked and was a nightmare for the disabled. Security was also an issue with about 260 external doors!

Take nothing but photos – leave nothing but footprints

Thanks for that Bonfire; I am now seeing these buildings in a much more favorable light too. I never knew they had gardens in the middle of them.

VG does have a point, but it’s not as if you were doing any harm by entering the site. I’m more concerned about the vandals and taggers that enter sites like this, rather than someone with some commonsense and a camera.

vg, I understand your point, but I think bonfire has done us all a favour by capturing these images fir us. We have very little heritage architecture in this city, and what we do have is being rapidly destroyed.

Incidentally, JB, I like your Concatenate article on “pubic” spitting. A new sport?

if the buildings were flipped around and the carparks at the rear, facing benjamin way, perhaps they would be better loved.

there is a certain charm to these places. but im also one of the peopel who thought the gdr rebuilt parts of dresden with the bauhaus architects maximising space and resources, is more attractive than the restored palace and cathedral.

if you like architecture, you have to appreciate the cameron offices.

bonfire – Have you heard of cave clan


Should mail them and hang out sometime – they are having a newbies BBQ at the lake this weekend. people from Canberra Melb and maybe Syd will be in attendance

presenting a report is not condoning.

if anyone has committed an illegal act its me.

drag me off in chains.

Call me the eternal cycnic, but there is a reason these joints are fenced off. People get injured, badly injured, by doing things like this. To top that off its trepassing.

The story is fascinating, but I’m sorry, the site shouldn’t be condoning things that are technically illegal.

Call me every name you like, but its true and I’m right. I don’t really care, but if its in the public domain someone else might

Vic Bitterman9:47 pm 04 Sep 06

Great report bonfire!

I think the idea of the shopping mall being connected to it as were residential areas would of made this a much more celebrated building than it was. There is plenty of orginality and smart design but like so much of Canberra let down by later planning and poor execution. Shame they aren’t demolishing the eyesore of Westfield and moving the interchange to Lathlain st were it should of been

Bonfire: Fantastic pics – thanks for sharing.

In the brief times I’ve driven past I’ve always thought those buildings were ugly and should be torn down – now I have a different opinion thanks to you. It is a bit depressing how we just let things go to waste sometimes….

What exactly is being done on the site? I’m beginning to think that with a coat of paint/rendering (the stained concrete is mainly what makes the buildings ugly) and a refit they could be turned into some pretty awesome apartments or new retail space. The powers that be are probably more interested in selling other blocks for new development/profit I guess…

Looks like quite the adventure…

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